Joseph Sold By His Brothers


Scripture Reference: Genesis 35:23-26; 37:1-36

Story Overview: Jacob had twelve sons but his favourite was Joseph. Joseph’s brothers were jealous so they conspired together and sold him as a slave to some traders heading for Egypt. They told their father that Joseph was dead.

Suggested Emphasis or Theme: We should try to get along with our siblings.

Memory Work:  Memorize the names of the twelve sons of Jacob—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin.

Background Study
Way to Introduce the Story
The Story
Review Questions
Craft and Activity Ideas
Other Online Resources


Background Study:
Jacob (or Israel, as his name became) had a very large family! Twelve sons and one daughter! These twelve sons and their descendants would develop into the great tribes in the Jewish nation.

Israel’s family life was quite a drama with his wives fighting over him and vying to bear him children. They each bore him children and then had their handmaidens bear him children on their behalf.

One would have thought that with the memories he had of his parents playing favourites between him and Jacob, that Jacob would have treated his children equally. Instead he favoured the sons of the wife that he loved the most.

As a youth, Joseph did little endear himself to his older brothers, telling them of dreams in which he ruled over them. When his brothers had the chance they secretly sold Joseph into slavery and made their father think he had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph was the eleventh of Jacob’s sons—the first of Rachel’s sons. Since Rachel was the wife Jacob preferred (Gen. 29:30), Joseph was looked on with favour above his siblings and even given a gift of a richly coloured coat (Genesis 37:3-4). This provoked resentment and jealousy in the brothers (Gen. 37:4).

Joseph was not always wise in his family relationships. Telling on his brothers (Gen. 37:2) certainly didn’t make them love him. And when he reported his dreams, it’s not surprising that he got himself in real trouble. He told his brothers of a dream where they were all working in the field cutting sheaves of grain. In the dream, all of his brother’s sheaves bowed down to his sheaf. Then he told them about a dream where the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. He must have appeared quite obnoxious, because even his father rebuked him for his boastfulness (gen. 37:10).

When the brothers suggested killing Joseph, Reuben, his oldest brother, showed a sense of responsibility by protecting him. Instead, Joseph was thrown into a pit—probably a dry cistern—from which Reuben intended to rescue him later. Reuben was apparently absent when the caravan came by, thereby unable to save Joseph from being sold.

When shown the torn and bloodied coat, Jacob couldn’t be comforted. The brothers wouldn’t admit their sin to stop Jacob’s suffering. He was sure Joseph was dead.

Joseph’s pain was of a different sort. Added to the knowledge that his own brothers had sold him into slavery was the reality of going from pampered son status to slave status.
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Way to Introduce the Story:
Ask each student to draw a picture of their family. Let each one stand up and explain their picture. Let everyone count to see how many children in each family. Who has the most/least sisters, brothers, etc? Note things that are different and things that are the same. Do you and your brothers/sisters ever argue? “In today’s story we are going to learn about a family that had twelve boys and one girl. The twelve boys did not get along very well.”
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The Story:
Have you ever wanted to change your name? What name would you want? God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. In the years to come this became a very famous name. All Jewish people were referred to as the “Nation of Israel.”

Israel (Jacob) had twelve sons but he loved Joseph the most. His brothers knew Joseph was their father’s favourite son and they were jealous. Jacob gave Joseph a special gift, a brightly coloured coat. This made the brothers angry. “He never gave us a coat like that,” they said.

Because Jacob loved Joseph so much his brothers hated him. One night Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers. “All twelve of us were in the field tying up sheaves of wheat. Suddenly my sheaf stood up straight and tall while all of yours bowed down to it,” he said.

His brothers got angry. They said, “Do you think we are going to bow down to you? Never!” They hated him more.

Then Joseph had another dream in which the sun, the moon, and eleven stars all bowed down to him. He told everyone in the family about it. Even his father questioned this dream. “Do you really think that your mother, brothers and I will bow down to you?” he asked.

Sometime later the brothers had gone to Shechem, a good distance away, to find pasture for their sheep. Jacob began to worry. “Joseph, your brothers have been gone so long. Please go see if they’re all right.”

So Joseph set out. He reached Shechem safely but there was no sign of his brothers or the animals. As Joseph stood wondering what to do, a man spoke to him. “Are you looking for someone?”

“Yes,” Joseph said, “my brothers.”

“I heard them say they were going to Dothan,” the man replied.

By this time Joseph was very tired and hungry but he hurried on his way. When he was still in the distance his brothers caught sight of him coming toward them. They saw his brightly coloured coat and they said to each other, “Look! Here comes the dreamer. Let’s kill him while we have the chance.”

But Reuben, the oldest, said, “Let’s not kill him. We can put him in this pit.”

“All right,” the others agreed. Secretly Reuben planned to rescue Joseph later when the others had left.

What a shock for Joseph when he arrived and saw his brothers’ angry faces. They seized him, tore off his beautiful coat and threw him into the deep pit. There was no way Joseph could climb out. “Please let me out.” He pleaded, but his brothers only laughed and sat down to enjoy their meal. How very cruel jealousy is!

While they were eating, a camel caravan of traders came riding by on their way to Egypt. “Let’s sell Joseph to the traders,” Judah suggested. “Then we won’t feel guilty about leaving him to die.” Reuben was not there to hear this suggestion. The other brothers thought it was a good plan. They would be rid of Joseph and they would make some money as well.

When a rope was dangled into the darkness of the pit, Joseph thought he was being rescued. But he was sadly mistaken. “What will you pay for this strong young man?” Joseph’s brothers asked the traders.

The traders looked at Joseph. He was healthy and strong. “We’ll give you twenty pieces of silver,” they offered. The deal was made and Joseph was led away.

Joseph just could not keep from crying. “Will I ever see my father and little Benjamin again?” he wondered. “But God was with my father when he went off to a strange land, and I know he’ll be with me as well.”

When Reuben came back to the well and found Joseph gone, he was horrified. “The boy isn’t here,” he exclaimed. “What am I going to do?”

The brothers explained to Reuben what they had done. Now they must decide what to tell their father. They killed a goat and took the coat they had ripped off Joseph and dipped it into the goat’s blood. When they reached home they showed the coat to Jacob saying, “We found this. Does it belong to Joseph?”

Jacob cried out, “My son has been torn into pieces by wild animals! All my life I shall mourn for him.” Jacob wept and no one could comfort him. Even though Joseph’s brothers knew he was still alive and they saw how sad their father was, they still didn’t tell Jacob the terrible thing they had done.
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Review Questions:

  1. What was Jacob’s name changed to? Israel
  2. How many sons did Jacob (Israel) have? 12
  3. What two dreams of Joseph’s made his brothers angry? Their sheaves of grain bowing down to his and the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to Joseph.
  4. Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him. Instead what did they do? Sold him as a slave.
  5. What did the brothers tell their father about Joseph? They dipped Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood and told Jacob that they had found it. Jacob thought that a wild animal had killed Joseph.
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Craft and Activity ideas for the class (choose age appropriate activities):

  • Use coloured chalk and draw Joseph’s coat on a chalkboard or footpath.
  • Younger children could use finger paint to paint Joseph’s coat.
  • Have the class draw a cartoon strip depicting the story.
  • Make a Joseph puppet.
  • Let class define “tattling” and give examples.
  • Snack Idea: Sprinkle multi-coloured decorator’s candy (ie. “Hundred’s and Thousands”) on buttered bread or cookies.  While you are doing this talk about how Joseph’s father favoured him by giving him a coat of many colours.  Simple cookie recipe at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/old-fashioned-sugar-cookies-recipe2/index.html.
  • Discuss Romans 12:15 and apply it to Joseph and his brothers.
  • List ways we can get along with our siblings.
  • Help the children learn the names of the 12 sons of Jacob. Click here for ways to do this.
  • Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.
  • Joseph View more ideas on the Pinterest Board: “Joseph”


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Other Online Resources:

Note: Also see the Joseph in Egypt Story and the Joseph Saves His Family Story on this site. Some of these resources relate to this lesson.

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One Response to Joseph Sold By His Brothers

  1. Pingback: Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors – Children's Church

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